By Russell Hixson
STILLWATER, Okla. —
It’s 9 a.m.
Betty Ottaway is loading up the basket of her bike with cat food and water. The bike is a rusty old Schwinn with plastic pedals but it gets the job done. She bought it at an auction.
The retired 71-year-old woman is short with dark grey hair, a bright face and a gentle voice. It’s easy to see why many of the area cats trust her.
She has several stops to make — abandoned yards, empty industrial buildings and quiet alleys. As Ottaway pedals along Perkins’ calm streets in the sunlight, her breath is visible in the cold air. As she nears each stop, cats seem to appear out of nowhere. She fills plastic buckets with food and water. The whole ritual takes approximately an hour.
Tomorrow she will do it again. She does it every day, even on Christmas. When it snows or ices over, she walks and does it twice to make sure the dozens of cats that are homeless and feral are taken care of.
It’s just one of the many ways she is trying to improve the health of Perkins’ feline population through her non-profit called Cats Are Treated Special. Ottaway takes in homeless cats. She pays for them to be fixed, get shots and have microchips implanted. She then tries to find them owners via the Internet.
There are some small food donations and adoption fees that help, but most of her support comes from her Social Security check.
She also has taken it upon herself to care for the roaming cat population on her daily rounds. When she can, she has some feral cats trapped, vaccinated and fixed to keep them healthy and their numbers from rising.
But not all residents see it that way. Ottaway said she has been yelled at and cussed out.
And the feeding bowls she uses on her rounds have been smashed and stomped. But Ottaway said there are many others who have been supportive of what she is doing.
“I would like to thank anyone who has helped me in the past,” Ottaway said.
She said the city with its one animal control officer does not have the time, funds or manpower to tackle the problem.
Ottaway stumbled in to rescuing cats.
She said in 2002, a neighbor called her about a litter of kittens that had been found in a brush pile and were going to be destroyed.
“That’s how it started, I couldn’t think of somebody doing that,” Ottaway said.
Now she is caring for 12 rescued cats at her home. She is trying to find them good homes.
The cats live on her property in a small outbuilding warmed by oil heaters. Ottaway wants to have electricity hooked up to help heat it for the remainder of the winter but that could end up costing hundreds or thousands of dollars.
“I just don’t seem to get anywhere,” Ottaway said.
It’s been 10 years but every morning she gets back on her rusty Schwinn and makes her rounds.
Ottaway encouraged Payne County residents to look into adopting a cat. Those interested in supporting Ottaway’s non-profit CATS can contact her at 405-547-1224.